published Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

VW’s commitment to education

When Volkswagen announced last year that it had chosen Chattanooga and Hamilton County as the site for its American manufacturing plant, the company made it clear that it wanted to participate fully in affairs of the city, state and region it would call home. VW officials confirmed that commitment Friday when they announced the company was pledging more than $5 million to improve K-12 and higher education in Tennessee.

The funds, dispensed over five years, will be shared by Hamilton County Schools, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee State University, the University of Memphis, Chattanooga State Technical Community College and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Such support for education is welcome at any time, but it is especially meaningful at a time when the global economy is straining industry resources and the budgets of schools at all levels.

Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, acknowledged as much. He said Friday that his company was not immune to the current economic crisis, but that the company’s belief in the importance of education prompted its gift. “I’m even more convinced, now that Volkswagen made the right choice in Chattanooga,” he added. “Promoting education is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.”

Given that commitment, the beneficiaries of VW’s largesse should use the funds wisely. Fortunately, that seems to be the case. Announced projects indicate the schools will use the money to create long-term programs and projects that will pay benefits to students and to communities for years to come.

Chattanooga State, for example, will use funds to create the Volkswagen Training Academy, which will train workers for employment at the manufacturing plant being constructed here. UTC will use its VW grant to provide scholarships in engineering, international studies and environmental science majors, and for faculty research and outreach. Doing so dovetails nicely with VW’s needs and mission.

Other recipients will use the money in a similar fashion. VW funds will allow Hamilton County schools to remodel a part of Calvin Donaldson Elementary into an environmental science lab, to underwrite a summer training institute for teachers and to help students prepare for college admission tests. ORNL will establish a Volkswagen Scholars program for upper division students interested in automotive careers. Other recipients will establish similar programs.

VW said it chose Chattanooga for its new plant, in part, because officials were impressed by the city’s commitment to a sustainable future, by its determination to protect its natural resources and cultural amenities, and by its desire to build a better quality of life for all residents. The significant and unsolicited contribution to schools announced last week indicates that VW understands the role education plays in achieving those goals and reaffirms the company’s desire to help reach them.

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